A Russian state TV presenter mocked President Biden’s prisoner swap of “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout for WNBA star Brittney Griner, claiming Griner got sprung from behind bars before long-suffering US prisoner Paul Whelan because of identity politics.
Bout “was not exchanged for the heroic spy,” Margarita Simonyan said on her show Thursday, referring to Whelan, who in her view had “three problems.”
“The first problem is that he is white. His second problem is he is a man, his third problem is he is a heterosexual, that is something that cannot be forgiven today.”
The US attempted to negotiate a swap of Bout for both Griner and Whelan, but the talks reportedly broke down over Russian demands that convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov, who is imprisoned for life in Germany, be included in the deal.
Russia claims that Whelan, a former US Marine who’s been jailed in remote Russia since 2018 on espionage charges, is an American agent. He denies the allegations, as do U.S. officials.
Griner flew home to Texas Friday after being detained in Russia since February for possessing cannabis oil in her suitcase.
Biden has expressed regret over leaving Whelan behind — at least for now.
“For totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently,” Biden said.